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Copyright © 1997
James D Thomas


"Stranger Than Non-Fiction"
April 1997 | Updated Monthly
Special Beavis & Butt-head double issue

Nurturing the Beavis Within
$23.95 Hardcover, MTV Publishing

As the success of the "Beavis and Butthead Do America" movie grows, it's getting harder and harder to find the line separating parody from deranged earnestness. Maybe Mike Judge has cracked, and plans to build the Beavis & Butthead merchandise franchise into something other than a mechanized branding machine for boxer shorts and plastic chachkis for teenaged boys who still think Spencer Gifts is cool.

If so, the first steps have been taken with the publication of "Nurturing the Beavis Within", allegedly a real self-help book written by an allegedly real psychotherapist, Dr. Julia Cohen. I tried-- I really tried to figure out if it is meant as parody -- but I couldn't, and I have a sinking feeling that it doesn't matter.

But perhaps, just perhaps, there is a Beavis inside of you, inside of us all. Sitting on a fast food-stained couch deep in your subconcious, sniggering at the music video that is your life, feeding on the stale nachos of your dreams, pathetically co-dependent on the Butt-head bully of your fears. That, in any case, is the prime thesis of the book.

Here's Cohen's plea to all of us to recognize our Beavis Within:

"Who among us has not faced our Beavis Within? Who among us has not felt the tsumani of post-pubescent hormones course through our veins, filling us with unbearable, tortuous lusts for both destruction and the opposite sex? Who among us has not felt an outsider to the social order, afraid that revealing the simplest of our beliefs or feelings would cause the teeming masses of Butt-heads to label us as "Dumbasses'? Who among us has not felt some special insight into the natural order of the universe, an insight that forever marks us as outcasts? And who among us has not dreamed of cleansing the earth of all those who've laughed at us or mistreated us with a great cataclysmic fire? Verily, we may laugh at Beavis, but it is the uneasy laughter of recognition and self-mockery.'

According to Cohen, Beavis represents an archetype, a facet of essential humanity present explicity or implicitly both in many of the great figures throughout history, and the huddled masses that surround us every day; moreover this archetype has been suppressed by our society, to the detriment of all. I guess.

Things aren't that simple, of course. The Beavis Within (or BW, in Cohen's handy abbreviation) is a complicated animal, possessing three distinct aspects: Beavis, Man-Child in Awe of Nature (whose easy to remember tagline is 'Dung Beatles are Cool!'); Beavis, Eternal Social Outcast ('Smell my Finger'); and finally Beavis, Prohpet of Destruction ('Fire! Fire! Fire!').

Perhaps the most humorous part of the book is Cohen's analysis of various historical figures in terms of the aspects of their Beavises Within. She even exploits Mandala-like patterns to set up a 'Cosmic Wheel of Beavis', graphically illustrating the dynamic tension between aspects of the BW. John 'Father of the Atomic Bomb' Oppenheimer's BW is particularly strong in terms of the Man-Child (reflecting his scientific orientation) and, unsurprisingly, the Prophet of Destruction. Many infamous people are listed as having a powerful Beavis Within; some have failed to acheive balance and spun out of control (Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Nixon) while others have harnessed the Beavis Wthin to exceptional creative ends -- paradigmatic examples include Jim Thompson and Robert Crumb.

Of course, there is a Butt-head Within as well, the side of us that represents normalcy and social competency. It's sort of a stretch to make Butt-head the paradigm of social competence, but in comparison to Beavis the trend is pretty clear. Cohen views the Butt-head within as necessary, but overemphasized in today's society. "We must become ourselves, as outcasts, before we can take our proper places in society." she explains. Politicians and salesmen are particularly well-attuned to their Butt-heads Within, about as self-evident a reason for aversion as one can get -- although as serial killers number as those perhaps most in touch with their Beavises Within, we seem to be presented with, at best, a Faustian bargain.

The conclusion seems to be that we all have a Beavis Within; most of us choose to repress it for the Path of Butt-head, which means subverting our individuality to mesh better with society (ok, maybe I can see that); even those of us who do make the courageous choice to embrace their inner Beavis often fall prey to exaggerating one of the aspects, whether violence (paradigm example: serial killers), alienation (street people), or stupifying inaction (depressives); only a few of us maintain the proper balance to our BW, allowing us to grow.

I think that Cohen is trying to approach, as close as the extended conceit of Beavis will allow, the link between genius and madness. Just as we can't have The Great Cornholio without Beavis' eternal failure to score, or Beavis' strange psychic episodes of supernatural clarity without his failure to understand Butt-head's jokes, so too is the sense of dislocation, alienation, and borderline insanity inextricable from the gifts of many artists and scientists. How many great thinkers and creators spent the 'Beavis years' of adolescence happily relating to their peers? Cohen is appealing to all of us who've suffered from alienation and awkwardness during our adolscences, both literal and metaphorical -- trying to show us how we can use the distance society forces on us to gain unique perspectives, how we can use the pain of isolation as fuel for acheivement, and finally how we might integrate ourselves back into society as far as we can go while maintaining our uniqueness.

I tried, really tried, to imagine such a happy ending for Beavis. Instead, I pictured a short-order cook, alone in a filthy one-bedroom apartment, the proverbial 'loner' who crops up in the descriptions of neighbors during local-news soundbites, after the bodies get dragged out of the basement. Butt-head had a better job, and a wife, although he did abuse her. It's hard to tell who wins. Given such a stark picture of human nature, maybe it's hard to know which one to embrace, as well.

-- Monica Arnzen

The Beavis & Butt-head Guide to Modern Theater

I have witnesses. Two years ago, while leaving a performance of "Waiting for Godot", I turned to some friends and said "Didn't that remind you of a Beavis & Butt-head episode?" I guess our generation gets what it deserves.

That seems to be the point made by "The Beavis & Butt-head Guide to Modern Theater", a series of comic book adaptations of contemporary theater standards. Volume one is an adaptation of "Waiting for Godot" aptly named "Waiting for Todd"; volume two is "Beavis & Butt-head are Dead", based on Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead". One can only imagine what's in store for volume three -- I'm voting for "Glengarry Glen Ross".

The creepy thing is how well the adaptations work. In "Waiting for Todd", B & B are sitting around, waiting for Todd to show up. Along the way Van Driesen shows up, playing a very passive-aggressive Pozzo to Stewart's Lucky. They leave, and B & B sit around some more, and finally get up to leave. Sound familiar?

By way of comparison, Here's the final bit of dialogue from "Godot".

Estragon: Didi? [his nickname for Vladimir].
Vladimir: Yes.
Estragon: I can't go on like this.
Vladimir: That's what you think.
Estragon: If we parted? That might be better for us.
Vladimir: We'll hang ourselves to-morrow. (Pause.) Unless Godot comes.
Estragon: And if he comes?
Vladimir: We'll be saved.
Estragon: Well? Shall we go?
Vladimir: Pull on your trousers.
Estragon: What?
Vladimir: Pull on your trousers.
Estragon: You want me to pull off my trousers?
Vladimir: Pull ON your trousers.
Estragon: True (pulls up trousers)
Vladimir: Well? Shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let's go.
Stage Direction: They do not move.

And the Beavis & Butthead version:

Beavis: Butthead?
Butt-head: Yes.
Beavis: I think we should go home.
Butt-head: You're a wuss, turdburglar
Beavis: I don't know if I want to hang around with you anymore, Butthead
Butt-head: We'll hang ourselves to-morrow. (Pause.) Unless Todd comes.
Beavis: Huh-huh. You said 'comes'.
Butt-head: Oh yeah. I guess I did.
Beavis: C'mon, let's go.
Butt-head: Put on you pants.
Beavis: What?
Butt-head: Put on your pants.
Beavis: My pants are already off, Butt-head.
Butt-head: Put you pants ON, dillweed.
Beavis: Yeah, ok. (pulls up trousers)
Butt-head: We should leave now, huh-huh.
Beavis: Ok.

The last panel ends with Beavis & Butthead motionless, under the tree.

I rest my case.

In "Beavis & Butthead are Dead", things get simplified a little -- Stewart fills in as Hamlet, and Tanqueray provides a strange Ophelia. But still, the core is there -- the opening scene, where our heroes are playing a coin-flipping game, and Butthead wins everytime, sending Beavis struggling through his usual mix of irritated incomprehension and visionary insight, is more Beavis & Butthead than any Beavis & Butthead I've seen on MTV.

Functionally, these comics might indeed function as educational tools, providing an interesting entre into the modern theater for today's crazy kids-- although I can't imagine it holding their attention for very long. But they are far more fascinating as literary archeology -- as the 'missing link' between art and trash. To see how far the post-war daze of Beckett and the post-modern meanderings of Stoppard trickled down into the vast wasteland of TV. Some who see the brilliance of the plays in question may mark the sucess of B & B as yet another mark in the growing list of signs of the apocalypse; but I think it's now obvious that there's a little more in Beavis' "you said 'comes'" than any of us want to admit.

After my aforementioned viewing of "Godot", my friend Adee said, "Didn't you find that boring?" I saidq, "It's supposed to be boring -- they're just waiting around. That's the point." Much the same could be said about Beavis and Butthead, although Vladimir and Estragon didn't have bad videos on tap to amuse them in Beckett's shoe box. Maybe that's the point -- TV doesn't change anything, just lays a gauzy haze over our boredom and gives us something to talk about.